GUATEMALA

Guatemala Flag
Country Description: Guatemala has a developing economy. Except for luxury hotels in major cities and tourist destinations, tourist facilities are not fully developed.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: To travel to Guatemala, U.S. citizens must have a valid passport. U.S. citizens no longer need a visa or tourist card for stays of up to three months (the three month period can be extended upon application). U.S. citizens must carry identification with them at all times. For further information regarding entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Guatemala at 2220 R Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 745-4952/3/4, or the Guatemalan Consulate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Houston or Chicago. Persons outside the United States should contact the nearest Guatemalan consulate.

The government of Guatemala requires all U.S. citizens to have a valid passport to depart Guatemala. U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Guatemala must obtain a new passport and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in Guatemala City to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid upon departure from the Guatemala City airport.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: The government of Guatemala and URNG guerrillas signed a final peace accord on December 29, 1996 to end the country's 36-year internal conflict. There have been no armed encounters between the Guatemalan army and guerrilla forces since the March 1996 Mutual Cessation of Offensive Activities. The final peace accord includes a permanent ceasefire and demobilization of the guerillas in specified locations with international verification. In the past, terrorist incidents have occasionally occurred during periods surrounding key political events. One recent trend has seen the involvement of groups, some proclaiming themselves as guerrillas, in extortion and other criminal activity.

Periodically, unfounded rumors that foreigners are involved in the theft of children for the purpose of using their organs in transplants have led to threats and incidents of mob violence in various parts of the country. The last such incidents occurred in 1994. While the threat of further incidents is not currently considered immediate, travelers should be aware that in areas outside the major tourist and business destinations there exists greater likelihood, albeit small, of such an incident. Travelers also increase their risk if they have contact with Guatemalan children. Adoptive parents, in particular, are encouraged to travel within Guatemala without their adoptive children, or to limit such travel to the extent possible.

Medical Facilities: A full range of modern medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited. In the past year, Guatemala's public hospitals have experienced serious shortages of basic medicines and equipment, with some hospitals on the verge of bankruptcy. Care in private hospitals is generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.

Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven useful in many emergencies. Additional health information may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international traveler's hotline at (404) 332-4559, or on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Violent crime is a very serious and growing problem throughout the country. Crime victims often complain of inadequate assistance from the police, and impunity from prosecution is a major concern on a broad level in Guatemala. No area can be definitively characterized as "always safe." Visitors who suffer criminal assaults are encouraged to contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy (or the duty officer after hours) for advice and assistance.

Nonpolitical kidnappings are prevalent, but to date have not affected American tourists. However, there have been eleven kidnappings during the past two years involving American citizen residents of Guatemala, one of whom was murdered. The Guatemalan government has had some recent success in its fight against kidnappers.

Pickpockets and purse snatchers are prevalent in major cities at tourist sites, especially the central market in Guatemala City. Highway robberies and robberies of pedestrians by armed thieves have been on the increase. Armed car theft is also a serious problem, although persons who offer no resistance when confronted by armed thieves are usually not hurt. It is dangerous to climb volcanoes, especially Pacaya, where tourists have been robbed and raped. Hiking alone in less populated areas of Guatemala is risky. Citizen frustration with crime has led to some incidents of vigilantism against persons allegedly involved in criminal activity. In that sense, it is wise to avoid public gatherings of agitated citizens.

In the city of Antigua, incidents of armed robbery and rape have increased. An American was shot resisting a robbery attempt at midday in January 1996. Cerro de la Cruz Park has seen vicious machete attacks, rapes, stabbings and robberies of foreign tourists, and in November 1996 a foreign national was murdered during the armed robbery of a group of more than 20 visitors. In response, the Guatemalan government has deployed a special tourist police force in the Antigua area, and is at least temporarily posting national police officers at the park during daylight hours.

In January 1996, two tourists, one American, were murdered on the beach at Panajachel. The Mayan ruins at Tikal and Flores are considered generally safe, provided that visitors fly to Flores and then travel by bus or tour van to the ruins. Overland travel in the rest of Peten Department is difficult and dangerous.

Tecun Uman, the principal transit point between Guatemala and Mexico, is a center of criminal activity and was the site of the 1995 shooting of two American tourists.

The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad." This publication, as well as others such as "Tips for Travelers to Central and South America," is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 20402.

Road Conditions/Highway Travel: Intercity travel after sunset anywhere in Guatemala is extremely dangerous. Travelers in private vehicles have been robbed, abducted, and murdered. There have also been incidents during daylight hours. Large capacity rented vehicles and travel agency vans are sometimes targeted by highway bandits. If confronted by armed bandits, those who accede to all requests without arguing are usually not physically harmed. Bandits often shoot at travelers who try to outrun roadblocks.

When driving to the Lake Atitlan area, the safest route is the Pan-American highway (CA-1) through Solola. Travel to the lake by any other route is dangerous. Boat travel on Lake Atitlan is dangerous in the late afternoon because of frequent bad weather conditions.

When entering Guatemala by car from Mexico, most travelers use border crossings at Tecun Uman (Highway CA-2) or La Mesilla (Highway CA-1) from Mexico, at Las Chinamas/Valle Nuevo from El Salvador and at El Florido or Agua Caliente from Honduras. Travelers need plenty of time to complete border crossing formalities, which can be lengthy, in order to arrive at a major town before dark.

Drug Penalties: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. A 1992 anti-narcotics trafficking law in Guatemala provides tough penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs. Those arrested on drug charges, even for simple possession of very small amounts, can expect to spend several months in jail before their case is decided. Convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.

Public Transportation: Public bus accidents due to equipment failure or human error are frequent. Americans are frequent victims of pickpockets and robbers on public buses.

Other Information: Updated information on Guatemalan adoption procedures and the U.S. immigrant visa application process is available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Prospective adoptive parents are urged to check with the Consular Section to be sure that their child's adoption is complete before traveling to Guatemala to apply for their child's immigrant visa. Adoptive parents are also urged to carry with them complete adoption paperwork when traveling with their adopted child to, from and within Guatemala. Additional information is available from the Office of Children's Issues, CA/OCS/CI, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520, telephone (202) 736-7000.

Civil Aviation Oversight: As a result of an assessment conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 1993, the FAA has found the government of Guatemala's civil aviation authority not to be in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Guatemala's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Guatemala's air carriers are permitted to conduct limited operations to the U.S. subject to heightened FAA surveillance. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at (800) 322-7873.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens may register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City to obtain updated information on travel and security within Guatemala. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is located at Avenida La Reforma 7-01 in Zone 10, Guatemala City, telephone (502) 331-1541. Consular Section hours for American Citizen Services are 8:00 A.M.-12:00 noon and 1:00-3:00 P.M. Monday - Friday (except weekends and U.S. and Guatemalan holidays).

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